Aurora Public Schools use physical education to improve school performance
Large urban district finds value in physical education and makes the change school by school
To say that Chris Strater is on a mission to promote quality physical education is an understatement by any measure.
The veteran teacher with 29 years of experience under her belt started the 2015 school year teaching 12 sections of physical education every day, so that each of the 312 children that attend Lyn Knoll Elementary School could have PE every day. She has since cut back to four days a week of physical education so she has some planning and preparation time.
“We know the science. We know the long term benefits of learning to live a healthy life,” she said. “We need to be doing this for our kids. It’s what gets me out of bed in the morning. When people see the real results in our kids, they come onboard with the movement.”
Strater supplements her classroom teaching by participating on a swat team of PE teachers that travel the state on behalf of the Colorado Department of Education to help other teachers improve their skills and share ideas. When all of that isn’t keeping her busy, she teaches a PE certification class for elementary teacher candidates working their way through Metropolitan State University of Denver’s School of Education.
Just over 87 percent of the students who attend Lyn Knoll qualify for free and reduced lunch. Four years ago, Strater left a much more affluent school in the district to bring her passion for PE and movement to students in this lower income area. She wanted to prove a point and have an even greater chance to see the results of what she has been advocating for.
“We have never seen this much growth in our kids, on tests, in the classroom setting, with decreased behavior referrals. In every category, the outcomes are showing us that what we are doing and what Chris has pushed for is demonstrating results,” said Assistant Principal Moran Stone. “And the classroom teachers are taking it up and they are working with it as well. I’ve got teachers applying for grants to help make their classrooms more friendly to movement and exercise.”
Stone acknowledges that initial attempts to schedule the kind of time it takes to make sure every student gets physical education each day were challenging. But she is adamant that the results are worth the work.
“I wouldn’t say it was easy. But if you want to make it happen, it is certainly doable,” Stone said. “It really comes down to integrating it into the fabric of what you are doing with the kids and getting your priorities straight.”
Kenny Webb, the PE coordinator for Aurora Public Schools, has seen more and more schools organically picking up on the value of physical education and physical activity for their students. Those schools, some of them on turn around status, are building the work into their ongoing efforts to improve overall student performance.
“I would love to see every kid have the opportunity to take PE at every level and that movement is starting to happen in the district,” Webb said. “It’s not a top down effort. These are individual schools seeing the value and making the change.”
Webb said the district decision to eliminate PE as a graduation requirement for high school students had a real trickle-down effect on how much PE students got in middle and elementary schools. This drop in participation was particularly high among girls, nearly 50 percent of whom opted not to take physical education in high school according to Webb’s data. This, coupled with the pressures of fitting increasing amounts of academic instructional time into the school day, was limiting the PE and in some cases general physical activity students were getting.
“Things are changing and momentum is building,” Webb said.
For Strater, things can’t change fast enough. She will be adding parents’ nights to her busy roster of activities so she can begin to educate them on the value of physical education to their children and hopefully, gain support for her work in each student’s home.
“It is so right for our kids. Every one of them. Every day,” Strater said. “The benefits are clear.”